Lighthouse Kijkduin is about to fall, a beacon that is as slender as it is robust, more than 63 meters high, made of cast iron. The residents of the coastal town of Huisduinen near Den Helder affectionately call their light tower ‘Lange Jaap’. They also say: “There is no life without a lighthouse.”
On Tuesday 21 September, the House of Representatives received an alarming letter from outgoing minister Barbara Visser (Infrastructure and Water Management, VVD): the tower is about to collapse. Due to great danger, 70 meters around the structure must be cordoned off immediately. Rijkswaterstaat had already informed the municipality of Den Helder.
For years, Jan Roelofsen, the secretary of the Huisduiner Belang association, pointed to Lange Jaap’s impoverished condition. “In 1998, TNO identified fractures in the floors and the spiral staircase, which connects the 17 floors with 284 steps,” he says. “However, nothing was ever done, except that the lighthouse was closed to the public.” Rijkswaterstaat responds that this concerns “a construction error in the original construction”. The tower “can take a lot vertically, even if it weighs five hundred thousand kilos. But it is uncertain whether the horizontal forces, such as from the wind, will soon cause more cracks.” Should the tower topple or collapse, it would be “a nightmare.” The maritime structure has been a national monument since 1988, and that creates obligations. That is why Rijkswaterstaat is considering supporting it.
Lange Jaap counts many feats of arms. In 1949 the tower got a new light source of 5,000 watts, reason for the Polygoon news for a report: “When the evening falls and the great light of nature goes out, the lamps in the light tower flash on.” Lange Jaap is like “a helper for the ships that have to find their way to a safe harbor in the deepest darkness”. It is the tallest lighthouse in the Netherlands and not only the tallest cast iron lighthouse in Europe, but also in the world. It served as a source of inspiration for other towers built at the end of the nineteenth century on the coasts of the Dutch East Indies.
Look closely at this lighthouse while you still can. It is not round but sixteen-sided. The 1,088 outer plates are secured with 21,466 cap screws. The foundation stands on 249 wooden piles, with a masonry of six layers of Waalsteen. De Lange Jaap has been guiding seafarers for a century and a half. Now he threatens to fall. Rijkswaterstaat fears the autumn storms.